For all the ado that’s been status-ed, tweeted, and publicly palavered over the proposed “Kavanaugh fee” in the last few days, an important detail is overlooked: HB 2675 does not once propose to increase tuition by one single penny, as even the Wildcat concedes in passing:
So what would actually happen? Ignore for now the “5-percenters” with full academic or athletic scholarships and the students who pay over $2,000 per year ($1,000/semester) anyways. Focus instead on students who, despite having their tuition covered by federal funding or other sources administered through the university, would be required by Kavanagh to pay from $1 to $2,000 beyond their tuition liability.
The school doesn’t keep the money, of course — that’s called theft. Instead, the money would be “paid” toward tuition in the usual manner, by depositing it in the bursar’s account. This money isn’t partitioned out — a total number of “encumbrances” (their terminology) are imposed for tuition, housing, mandatory fees, course fees, bookstore purchases, etc., toward which funds are deposited in the account for payment. These encumbrances may fall, depending on in-state classification, withdrawal from courses, and other factors that leave more money in the account than is owed to the university. At which point:
In other words — the money is ultimately be sent back to the student in the form of a check. The presence of additional money in the bursar’s account actually speaks directly to this line of criticism:
Since tuition levels are not affected, students will be required by HB 2675 to contribute a superfluous $1,000 per semester in their bursar’s account. Bursar’s funds can be used for paying for books, course fees, housing, and meal plans. If anything, this legislation is doubly redundant — students certainly pay this much for related expenses anyways. At the margins, it may even keep kids from blowing meal money in a welcome-back bender.
The bill reeks of an teenager’s attempt at a statute, filled with yawning loopholes and suspicously specific carve-outs. Though Kavanaugh’s concerns — the abuse of “merit” scholarships by state universities and, more broadly, the effects on education from lacking any ‘skin’ in the game — should not be dismissed out of hand, this hamfist of a bill creates more problems than it purports to solve. It impinges on freedom of contract, between both the university and its students and between students and private benefactors. It impinges on the ability of students to seek market alternatives for their outside costs. It creates silly circuitous effects that seem aimed at demonstration of a university-budget equivalent to Ricardian equivalence. Even if the bill were passed in its current form, its actual effect on students would be null.
A keen reader might note that it’s somewhat unlikely that this legislation will allow a student to just charge $2,000 per year to their bursar’s and spend it on textbooks, Starbucks, and massages at the Rec (all services that can be payed through the account). That’s likely true. It is true not because of the bill’s text, however, but the excuse that it gives to the money pit known as the Board of Regents. Eager to find any premise to raise tuition (they retain the ultimate authority as they have since their formation), this bill is near a godsend — it allows them to ratchet up tuition, while allowing to point even more directly to the state legislature for blame than they already do in the annual budget battles. The bill itself isn’t the problem, even enacted. The problem is how the regents will interpret its effect.
The problem is and remains the regents. The board is disinterested in any university differentiation; committed, as all bureaucratic agencies, to reserving as much authority and consequent budgetary control to themselves; and has smashed any procedural impediments that once protected against this authority. Republican legislators play a convenient boogey-man to the just-informed-enough college student, for obvious reasons that go beyond mere tuition battles; against this backdrop, even lauded by student activists purportedly watching out for “student interests.”